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Discuss Ablutions. You are reading Patrick de Witt's first novel on the strength of his Booker shortlisted Sisters Brothers. You are drawn to the cover; it looks similar to the Sisters Brothers. It isn't.

You find yourself in a bar, somewhere in America. Probably Los Angeles. You aren't quite clear where. You view the world through an alcoholic haze, drinking free Jameson's Irish Whiskey in a bar where few people seem to pay for their drinks. You are pouring the drinks even though, it seems, you are not the barman.

Discuss the customers. They include a child TV star who has fallen for the drink. There's a coke dealer. There are teachers. There's a psychic. There are hookers. Plus there are the doormen, the South African bar manager and a wannabe film director. In fact, it seems you're the only one who has never had ambitions in Hollywood. You're just living for the next drink or the next hit of coke.

Your story is barely coherent. Mostly just fragments and snippets that might fall together into a plot, if only your life actually had a plot. Of course there is some element of continuity, it's just you can't find the direction.

You've got to like second person narration - a device which is irritating at best. You've got to just stick with things, however they go. You've got to appreciate the atmosphere even if the story and characterisation are a bit thin. Then, and only then, are you going to get something from Ablutions. Otherwise you'll find it a depressing, repetitive and dull affair.
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on 15 February 2010
This short but compelling novel drips with LA low-life scum. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke, liquor and rank behaviour that drips from the pages.

In an inventive second-person narrative voice, we see the regular drunks and drinkers of a small-time LA bar through the eyes of our bartender. There isn't much to like- but that's kind of the point. It's like peering into an abyss of addiction, inebriation and it's a heady, intoxicating view. deWitt serves up a murky cocktail.

The characters in this novel sink pretty low- there's drug addiction, drug dealing, prostitution, sex, sleaze, violence- you really become mired in their world. But ultimately, you get to leave them behind at the end.

Redolent of Bukowski, 'Ablutions' really lifts up a stone and peers at the darkness, and loneliness of city life whilst peeling away the complexities of addiction. Weakness, freedom, waste, want- they're all here.

Tragic, abhorrent, despicable- and yet, it's an engaging page-turner that I couldn't put down. You will feel like you need a good wash when you've finished.

I will be intrigued to see what Patrick deWitt writes next.
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on 22 April 2012
I loved this book. I'd read the Sisters Brothers and liked that one so I decided to get Ablutions. I think I prefer Ablutions out of the two, although both are excellent. This book describes a man's slip into addiction, and the loss of everything he held dear. It IS a portrait of alcohol's power but that's not all this is about. Great characters, lots of humour and pathos, a page-turner and an identifiable protagonist make this well worth reading. If you've ever struggled with the drink then it's all the more identifiable. Like Bukowski at his best this is a humorous look at the low-lifes and has-beens, never forgetting that despite their afflictions they are people just like you. great book.
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on 15 April 2012
this debut novel by patrick dewitt (caps lock not working on my kindle, so apologies for lower case throughout) is an altogether different proposition than the excellent `the sisters brothers.` it deals with addiciton and the desperate lies we tell ourselves to justify our behaviour. there are no chapters and really no plot, as such. however, this is still a compelling read. the author is an extremely skilled writer and his prose is inspirational. novels don't have to brim with action and suspense to work. reminds me a little of raymond chandler in mood and the atmosphere is dark and foreboding. the premise being one of degrees of discomfort and despair, leading to logical conclusions for those concerned. this is a novel for people who love to read excellently constructed prose. the story is not the story of this book- the writing is.
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on 3 March 2010
DeWitt writes of the grime of an LA bar with magnificent vividness and much humor (maybe it has something to do with the writer actually being a dishwasher and a bartender before). Even though he introduces character after character each and every one of them comes to life and nicely incorporated into the storyline. The narrative is exceptional and original, a second person view of the world that allows you to make the most of it: it could be a ghost, or it could be the main character's consciousness. More please...
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 November 2012
I used to really love boozy, druggy novels when I was a teenager, regularly devouring books by Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Hubert Selby Jnr. and Patrick Hamilton where the protagonists were either alcoholics, drug addicts or both. But that was when I was a teenager and my literary tastes have since changed. So I was surprised to find myself drawn into Patrick deWitt's debut novel "Ablutions" which takes place almost entirely in a dismal Hollywood bar filled with deadbeats and human detritus getting sloshed and snorting powder in the dark.

Like most people I came to deWitt after reading his excellent Booker-nominated western "The Sisters Brothers" about a pair of bounty hunters in the old West on the trail of one of their targets. It's an excellent book which I highly recommend and led me to seek out this, his only other published novel (so far). "Ablutions" is a completely different book to "The Sisters Brothers"; where "Sisters" was a fast-paced first person narrative that read like an intelligent thriller, "Ablutions" is without a plot, told in the second person by a consistently drunk narrator, his attention reeling from one character in the bar to another seemingly at random and without any direction.

And yet "Ablutions" is still a hypnotic read. Maybe it's the character portraits of the broken lives that litter the bar. There is a drug- addled manager, an alcoholic former child actor, two slutty drunken school teachers, a wannabe artist and a dealer, as well as corrupt bar owners and the despicable narrator. The setup is that the narrator wants to be a novelist who gets work as a bar back because he feels he will meet a number of interesting people with stories he can exploit by putting them in his novel. Combine this with the fact that the author used to work as a dishwasher/bar back and the uneven, scattered approach to writing this novel and you could almost say that the author is the narrator and that his cynical approach worked. Almost. Because the writing is too damn good to dismiss the book as opportunistic and exploitative.

The comparisons to Bukowski are only superficial. Yes it takes place in a bar, a setting which Bukowski featured prominently in many of his novels, but his writing style was far more straightforward and raw, focusing more on dialogue than prose. DeWitt includes dialogue but, as the subtitle "Notes for a Novel" suggests, much of the book is written descriptively and the style feels more lyrical. The atmosphere of the bar culture feels very real and the details are convincingly authentic. DeWitt captures life on skid row as ramshackle, scary, deeply unpleasant and ugly while portraying the mind-set of an alcoholic with mesmerising alacrity. We get to see his inner workings, believing his car is "magic" because he drives home drunk each night and never gets pulled over by police, and while at home, he hides stashes of aspirin so his wife doesn't realise his increasing dependence on, and abuse of, substances.

He does utilise novelistic tropes that set the book apart from being a simple retelling of scenes from a bar: it's "written" by an alcoholic narrator whose life is falling apart so the lack of cohesion in the broken layout could reflect the narrator's scattered and unsettled mind. Also, the business model of the bar is bizarre: the staff (seemingly all alcoholics) can drink as much of anything in the bar for free while doling out free drinks to regular alcoholics who show up every night? And why is there a doorman for an establishment so low-class whose clientele are practically all homeless derelicts? How does this place make money when it's in the hands of such reckless, irresponsible personalities? Unless a lot of this is made up and/or misremembered by an increasingly unreliable narrator who storyline becomes more unhinged as the book reaches its conclusion.

If you're going to read this - and I do recommend it - beware that it is a slow burn. It doesn't take a while to get going because it never really does, it trundles along at an unhurried pace throughout, occasionally giving the reader something more substantial than bar scenes. The solitary road trip to the Grand Canyon was brilliant with the scenes at the rodeo being the best in the novel. But it's slow pacing and detailed telling of the lives of these troubled and troubling people is fantastic and the portrait of the narrator is fascinating. "Ablutions" is a good novel and well worth the time you give it, just don't expect the kind of novel he delivered in "The Sisters Brothers". Cheers!
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on 31 May 2012
I wouldn't be the first reviewee here to refer to Bukowski and McArthy - and it feels like the content of this book is a result of `all the pretty horses` and`post office` being put in a blender and added to some Irish Whiskey. Each character and chapter all interlocking mini storys which mix between vulgarity and hillarity. DeWitt must have a screw loose but this beats sisters brothers and I would like to request more of the same. Whether you can relate to being constantly intoxicated or not - read this book.
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on 15 August 2012
At first I thought this was going to be a series of very accomplished, but unconnected, character sketches. It isn't. It's a brilliantly written tale of a drop-out bar tender - his descent into chaos - and the creatures he encounters. Better than The Sisters Brothers. Truly excellent writing. A pleasure to read.
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on 1 November 2011
This is a strange book chronicling the life of a bartender outside Hollywood, working in a bar full of down-and-outs whose lives are going nowhere. It is a fascinating study of addiction and the quiet desperation of people who are stuck in a bottomless rut. Although it is occasionally revolting, it is also often extremely funny and contains some excellent descriptions and put-downs. I disagree with one of the other reviews which claims it has no narrative- the reader cannot have been paying attention, the book begins showing the life of the bartender and follows a slow realisation that he cannot continue to live his life like this. I found parts of it surprisingly moving and will definitely be re-reading.

Also, read THE SISTERS BROTHERS, which is the author's second novel. It is even better than ABLUTIONS.
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on 1 April 2011
An old bar frequented by Hollywood's losers forms the stage for this novel. A nameless, devilish scribbler/bar tender keeps a diary about the sorry state of the mental and physical health of its regulars and of himself. The bar is unlike the one featured in a successful and much-repeated TV-series. The recorder uses quite effectively the rarely-used second person style ("You see Jack coming in and hope he... ") and the accusative ("Discuss Brent, the unhappy doorman, who..."). He orders himself to note down what he sees and does in order to write, once he is sober, a real novel. As a notebook "Ablutions" is a true masterpiece.

It chronicles the sorry life of the bar's clients as seen by this married, tall and skinny white man who serves as a bar back. During his six-year career he has begun to hallucinate, but always manages to drive home drunk in his ancient Ford under the radar of the police. His drink of choice is Jameson's.

The inside of his mouth bleeds sometimes, he has lost dental chips, and once an entire molar while talking to the bar owner's wife (he swallowed it). Apart from indulging in Irish whiskey, he uses speed and has blind faith in the healing powers of massive doses of aspirin. As a married alcoholic, he is an expert in silent early-morning vomiting.

When did this book take place? Sometime during the GW Bush era? The earning model of this bar is intriguing. No limits on drinking for staff? Lots of free drinks for awful regulars? Doormen with a clientele of lowlifes? And the price of drinks is awesome... Live and learn about America.

"Ablutions" is a short, but eminently re-readable novel. It contains lots of self-inflicted and suddenly-occurring bits of drama, some quite ugly and repellent. It has a surprise ending. Surely a debut quite a few readers will Judge on the wrong grounds.
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